Monday 31 August 2015

Back on dry land

There was some time between pelagic trips on my recent visit to the Isles of Scilly to check out some old haunts in search of migrants and resident birds around St Mary's:
Returning to St Mary's afer seeing the Fea's Petrel there were a good few hours of daylight to enjoy so I headed to Content where several Pied Flycatcchers had been reported. It took a couple of hours of patient watching to get a photo I was happy with. I was also impressed with the camera to capture this with so little grain shooting at ISO4000.
The next morning I went for an early morning walk around the Garrison but before I had got there I kicked up another Pied Fly (#215 for the photo yearlist) off the road in the middle of Hugh Town.
Male Blackcap in the gloom at Lower Moors...
...and a female in slightly better light, but still shooting at ISO1000
Reed Warblers were around the pool at Lower Moors - probably local breeders rather than migrants
And an obliging Sedge Warbler was in the same area
A very attractive bird, the Sedge Warbler
This one put the camera through its paces, landing in the shade on the boardwalk - I shot this at ISO4000
A couple of Green Sandpiper (#216) dropped in at Lower Moors
This can be a skittish species so it was good to see them settle and start feeding
They remained jumpy though and provided some flight photography practice...
...this one turning in mid air...
...and this one coming in to land
Another attractive species
Even managed a reflection
Snipe is also fairly reliable at Lower Moors - this one captured in a downpour
A Greenshank at the same site in the same downpour
Another Greenshank at Porth Hellick

Thursday 27 August 2015

Pirates off Penzance

Skuas provide menace in the supporting cast on pelagic trips with their piratical feeding behaviour, scaring the living shfish out of other seabirds. We saw two species on our mid-August trips out of St Mary's. The most likely to appear, Great Skua (#211), didn't disappoint, and we saw these every day, as they often came in to harass the gulls following in our wake.
Much rarer in our waters is the Pomarine Skua, of which we saw two - a fine, fully-spooned up adult which flew distantly between us and the islands one evening, and a 2nd summer with shorter spoons and stripey underwings which came straight over the top of the boat.
I managed to miss the spring passage of Pom Skuas past Portland despite spending a day there so this was a good one to get back for the photo year list (#213).
Not a skua, obviously, but a final surprise on the day we saw the Fea's Petrel was a diminutive Black Tern following a fishing boat - very well spotted at some distance by Antony Griffiths, it eventually came in close enough for a photo (#214).

Monday 24 August 2015

An improbability...

...of Shearwaters. That's the collective noun New Zealanders apparently give to this family (I can't find an English equivalent despite, ooh, 30 seconds of extensive research). We call it a raft, of course, when groups of them are sitting on the water, but that doesn't quite capture the way these birds are best enjoyed: shearing, as the name suggests, low over the sea. Four pelagics out of St Mary's in mid-August provided ample opportunity for me to practice. Best efforts below.

First up, the Great Shearwater, which, having bred on islands in the South Atlantic, winters during our summer off the coast of North America, passing through our waters on its southward migration. We saw this species on every trip, and they often followed the boat.
Next up, the Sooty Shearwater, another southern hemisphere breeder which spends its winter (our summer) north of the equator. Again, its southward migration brings it to our coastal waters. Several of these were seen over the long weekend, some coming in to investigate what we were leaving in our wake.
Next up, the Balearic Shearwater, which breeds much closer to home as the name suggests, but is much rarer globally than the other two - in fact, one of the rarest birds globally to regularly grace this country. Good numbers have been seen passing seawatching hotspots this year so hopefully that's a good sign. This one came in behind the boat and stuck with us for a while, risking attacks from gulls to dive for food just off our stern.
And finally, our very own Manx Shearwater, most of whose breeding population can be found in Britain and Ireland, including some on Scilly. 2014 saw Manxies successfully fledge young on the archipelago for the first time in a long time following a rat eradication programme.
Marvellous birds, every one, which with the Fea's, Wilson's and Storm Petrel, brought the photo year list up to #212.